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  • Toppling Qaddafi: Libya and the Limits of Liberal Intervention by Christopher S. Chivvis
  • Ronald Bruce St John (bio)
Toppling Qaddafi: Libya and the Limits of Liberal Intervention, by Christopher S. Chivvis . New York : Cambridge University Press , 2014 . 249 pages. $32.99 paper.

Christopher S. Chivvis is a senior political scientist at the Rand Corporation and a professor at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at the Johns Hopkins University. Having served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy and worked for more than a decade on international security and political economy issues, he is well-placed to examine the role of the United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the Libyan revolution that overthrew the 42-year-old Mu‘ammar Qadhafi regime, and to draw lessons from that experience.

If military intervention in a broad sense “is defined as the use of force to affect the internal affairs of another country” (p. 4), Libya was the seventh important US military intervention since the end of the Cold War. Heavily influenced by lessons drawn from earlier interventions, the Libyan experience departed from them in significant ways that could influence future US military interventions. From the start, the United States encouraged its European allies, especially Britain and France, to take a lead role and to assume a heavy burden in Libya. The United States offered broad support but assumed a limited military role and did not seek to dictate terms to its allies. In [End Page 647] the process, Libya became a test case for a less ambitious concept of operations, often referred to as a light footprint, in which the intensity of allied operations over Libya was remarkably low in comparison with other post–Cold War US interventions.

In addition to examining in admirable depth the US role in the NATO intervention in Libya, an exploration of how well this less ambitious concept of operations worked, how it might be improved in the future, and its implications for future military interventions are central issues in this book. Acknowledging that there is no one way to intervene and that no single rule will guarantee success, the author concludes that the Libyan intervention was a “moderate success given what was achieved, how much it cost, and how challenging the operation was” (p. 187). Moreover, he sees the US approach in Libya as a model for future transatlantic security cooperation, notably in situations in which Washington is reluctant or unable to commit the full power of its military to a NATO operation. In this regard, he suggests that one of the most important lessons of the Libyan experience is that NATO can in some cases serve US interests without a dominant US role. At the same time, he warns that the Libyan experience is likely something of a cautionary tale. While a light footprint was moderately successful in a small war with limited objectives, the Libyan experience does not tell us very much about how successful a light footprint would be in more difficult conditions in which objectives are broader and more transformational.

Toppling Qaddafi is a carefully researched and highly readable book based on extensive interviews with many officials involved in the military intervention in Libya. Focused on the intervention, the author does not discuss the post-conflict reconstruction of Libya in any detail, which may disappoint some readers; however, reconstruction is a related but separate subject from the one he addresses so well. In the appendix, the author also includes information not readily available elsewhere, including a month-by-month list of defections from the Qadhdafi regime. Anyone interested in better understanding the current debate over the wisdom of the military intervention in Libya, as well as the approach applied and the lessons learned, would do well to begin with this book.

Ronald Bruce St John

Ronald Bruce St John, an independent scholar, is the author of several books on Libya, including Libya: From Colony to Revolution (Oneworld, 2008), Historical Dictionary of Libya (Rowman & Littlefield, 1991), and Libya: Continuity and Change (Routledge, 2011).



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pp. 647-648
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